“Lupin” steals the international stage

Lina Mezerreg

When someone is asked for a classic example of an ethical and righteous criminal, Robin Hood is the expected answer — or at least it is in the English-speaking part of the world. In France, Arsène Lupin, the Gentleman Thief, is the childhood classic that has been the inspiration behind countless remakes and adaptations, the most recent being the Netflix Original “Lupin” starring award-winning actor Omar Sy.

Although the original idea for the show was another remake of the original Arsène Lupin books, no one could argue that the final result was unsatisfactory. “Lupin” follows the story of Assane Diop, the son of a Senegalese immigrant. Diop’s father was falsely accused of the theft of a legendary diamond necklace by his former employer when Assane was a child, leading to his unfair imprisonment. Tragedy soon follows, leaving the teenage Assane bitter, confused, and with one gift: a complete collection of the Arsène Lupin stories. These stories become an inspiration for Assane 25 years later as he searches to unmask the corruption of the system that falsely incarcerated his father and more importantly, the employer that falsely accused him.

“Arsène Lupin is more than a book,” Diop says at the end of the first episode. “He is my heritage. My method. My path.” 

This quote sums up the show quite nicely, illustrating just how impactful Diop’s father’s final gift was on him. And it’s hard to ever lose sight of the stories. They’re constantly reflected in Diop’s heists and schemes, in his character and charisma, and even in the ongoing investigation around him. Arsène Lupin becomes Diop’s alias, helping him craft his elaborate plans and immaculate disguises, one of the few ways he can connect to his father after all these years. But these stories aren’t the only aspect of French culture that are cleverly expressed throughout the show.

Arguably one of the best aspects of the show is its diversity. Not only in minor and side characters, but also in the main ones. Diop himself is the son of a Senegalese immigrant who came in search of a better life for his son. There are also several recurring characters of Maghreb descent. For example, the lieutenant detective Sofia is portrayed by Algerian actress Shirine Boutella. France has always been a hub of immigration, not only from surrounding European countries but also from other French-speaking countries, namely in Africa and the Caribbean. It’s a relief to see “Lupin” portraying the immigrant population as what it is: an essential part of France.  

Another essential part of any culture is its language, especially as Lupin is a French show that has been filmed in France. Many have qualms over watching a show in its original language, especially if they do not know said language, but my personal belief is that a dub takes away so much value from the show. For starters, the actors’ emotions are conveyed in their tone of voice as well as their facial expressions and actions. 

Also, there are so many aspects of the culture itself that may get lost in the translation. For example, the English language doesn’t fully translate the verb tense of imparfait, or imperfect tense, which is one of the four main past tenses in the French language. In an English translation, the sentence would simply be transferred to the past, but that takes away the importance of the use of an imparfait-verb instead of a regular passe compose. Imparfait is used to denote a habitual or ongoing action that has started in the past. There are also two ways to say you in french: the informal singular “tu” and the formal and plural “vous.” The difference between these two is that they not only denote the status of the person that is being addressed, but also the speaker’s relationship with them.

Another key theme of the show is family, clear from Assane’s dedication to his father to the effort he puts in his relationship with his own son, Raoul, and ex-girlfriend, Ludivine. Despite Assane’s complicated schedule of cover jobs,schemes,thievery and subterfuge, he still manages to find the time to hang out with Raoul, with whom he is shown to have a dynamic relationship. One point that truly cements this is when Assane gives his son the same collection of Arsène Lupin stories that his father gave him as his final gift. Not just a copy of those books, but the same books themselves with all his notes and scribbles, portraying the trust and strong bond they share.

The show delivered the plot excellently as well, with its smooth filming, intriguing story, and brilliant editing . The streaming market is full of shows that have had stellar narratives but then failed in the execution that they sunk to the bottom of the charts. “Lupin” does not make this same mistake, never overloading their watchers with information but also never drawing it out to the extent that the audience can get bored. Many shows have discovered the importance of flashbacks, but “Lupin” uses them in a whole new way. Instead of the camera closing in on a character staring at a point in the distance, “Lupin” creates a parallel between the past and the present, setting these two different times on the same track.

The heists are by far the most intriguing parts of the show. Diop doesn’t just walk into a building as himself, he creates a whole other identity for himself each time. Whether he pretends to be a burger delivery man or even a janitor at the Louvre, the transformation is so complete that it throws almost everyone off his track. These disguises are one of Arsène Lupin’s signature moves, and Diop takes all his tricks into consideration.  

One of the things that make the heists all the more intriguing is the ingenious music choices. From French hits to international classics to various instrumental compositions, the music not only draws the viewer in, but can accurately convey the mood of the moment. 

So next time you’re looking for a good show to keep you up at night or a new place to go, there is no way you can go wrong with “Lupin.” And who knows? You might go in a viewer and come out a thief.